Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 3 (Pastoral); Symphony No. 6 in E minor

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 (Pastoral); Symphony No. 6 in E minor
PERFORMER: Bournemouth SO/Kees Bakels
CATALOGUE NO: 8.550733 DDD
The coupling of Vaughan Williams’s Third and Sixth symphonies is an apt one. No. 3 was conceived at the close of the First World War, No. 6 at the end of the Second, with the earlier work expressing a joy in the return of peace and the later symphony suggesting both violence and resigned desolation – optimism replaced by unsentimental realism.

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These recordings were made a year apart, the Third in the resonant acoustic of Poole Arts Centre and the Sixth in Bournemouth’s Winter Gardens. This geographic and temporal division is also reflected in the performances. That of the Third glows, with warm, supple playing and an expressive power that belies the infamous criticism at the time of its premiere that the music brings to mind a vision of ‘a cow looking over a gate’.

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The performance of the Sixth, though, is destroyed by a coarse, close recording balance and a particularly bland interpretation in which the insistent rhythmic figure of the second movement sounds merely perfunctory, rather than menacing, and the pianissimo finale prosaic rather than desolate. Only the third movement, a Shostakovich-like, diabolic scherzo, succeeds. Given the disc’s bargain price, it’s worth buying for the Pastoral alone and looking elsewhere (such as Andrew Davis/Teldec) for No. 6. Matthew Rye